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United Nations Panel Approves Bush Administration Exemptions to Ozone Layer Treaty
Beyond Pesticides, October 22, 2003) An international panel of experts assembled by the United Nations (UN) has approved the Bush administration's request for broad exemptions to a ban on methyl bromide, a dangerous pesticide that damages Earth's protective ozone layer, according to an October 21 article in The New York Times. The ban, which applies to industrialized countries, is scheduled to take effect in 2005 under the Montreal Protocol, the 1987 treaty to eliminate chemicals that destroy ozone. The UN panel can recommend exemptions if it finds that substitute chemicals would be unsafe or too expensive.

In a report released over the weekend, the panel recommended a number of exemptions for the United States and a dozen much smaller countries. The largest were for American tomato and strawberry growers, who together are seeking to continue using more than 5,000 tons of methyl bromide a year. Other exemptions were for golf courses, flower growers and honey producers.

The panel said it had recommended many of the exemptions with reservations, in the absence of hard data on possible substitutes. It said alternative chemicals were already being used on these crops elsewhere and wrote that it "could not determine why some of these alternatives were not feasible."

Methyl bromide is an ozone depleter 50 times stronger than now-banned CFCs. Its uses include grapes, strawberries, tomatoes, grain storage, and structural pest control, primarily in California and Florida. It has been found to cause birth defects and brain damage in laboratory animals. Air sampling has found methyl bromide levels well exceeding state safety guidelines in California nearby neighborhoods and schools and has caused thousands of poisons in California alone.

In 1998, the Clinton Administration and Congress approved a rollback of the methyl bromide phase out date from 2001 to 2005 for the U.S. The methyl bromide ban, scheduled for 2001 under the Clean Air Act, was delayed four more years by language by Rep. Vic Faxio (D-CA) in a last minute anti-environmental rider attached to the Fiscal Year 1999 agricultural appropriations bills.